Categorising music according to its geographical origin is a highly dubious practice. But no one can deny that there’s been a tidal wave of thrillingly progressive creativity rolling out of South Africa of late. The Johannesburg-based Blk Jks, Dirty Paraffin and Gazelle have also been grabbing alternative music press headlines, but the name on everyone’s lips is Spoek Mathambo.
Now signed to legendary grunge label Sub Pop (plunging further into the leftfield hip hop pool of late with Shabazz Palaces and THEESatisfaction), Mathambo has wryly described himself as the ‘posthip hop poster boy’, but he’s made a marked shift from his debut LP with the follow-up. With ‘Mshini Wam’ he developed a darkly sticky but irresistibly groovy hybrid of ghetto tech, electro, hip hop, Soweto funk, dancehall, dubstep and rejigged kwaito. ‘Father Creeper’ keeps the claustrophobia and menace, and retains the electro/hip hop core, but now Mathambo’s sharp-edged modernism embraces progressive house, synth pop, drone/ambient electronica, art rock, high-life and maskandi (a bluesy, Zulu guitar style) and even briefly flirts with funk-metal. Surprises, then, but nothing ill-judged or unbecoming.
Highlights are the title track, a twist on Flying Lotus’s cosmic house, the minimalist electro lament for blood diamonds that is ‘Put Some Red on It’ and ‘Skorokoro’, which producer Chllngr floods with dubstep wobble. Grungily rocking epic ‘Grave’ is the biggest shock, suggesting Tunde Adebimpe fronting Pavement. All up, it’s the sound of a maverick re-marking his distinctive territory. A good move, when so many others are merely marking time.